Saved the Water Department – Within my first month on the Council, it became apparent that our Water Department was insolvent. It runs as a separate enterprise fund – essentially it’s own company outside the general fund of the city. The Water Department has been providing high quality drinking water at a low cost to our residents for over 100 years – pumping over 60% of our water usage from our own wells. The problem was that it had been spending its reserves for years despite massive increases in cost from the State Water System, the Orange County Water District and Southern California Edison. It seems no one on staff wanted to admit we were selling water below cost and no one on the council knew about or wanted to address the problem. The Council was presented with a false choice of undertaking massive rate hikes or deficit spending into the General Fund. Using my experience owning and running businesses, especially one that sells high cost commodities, I demanded that the staff set up a balance sheet, so we could see our actual reserves, and an income statement to see how much we were actually making or losing on the sale of water to replace those reserves. This is very important, because the reserves are meant to pay for pipe and pump replacement not operations. Once produced, it was obvious we were selling our water at a loss. I looked at other cities that had this same problem. They didn’t have to dramatically raise rates. I led the charge to develop the same system they did. All costs from 3rd parties we can’t control like State Water, OCWD, and Edison would be passed through, rates for our own services would only increase at 3% per annum, providing plenty of reserves to rebuild pumps and pipes. We still have the third lowest water rates in all of Orange County.
Funded Roads & Sewers – With the loss of Redevelopment Agencies, the City lost an important funding source to improve streets, sidewalks, gutters, storm drains and sewers. Redevelopment provided about $1.5mm per year toward those things. I insisted that as revenues came back we set aside general funds into reserves to keep funding these projects. In the last three years we’ve placed more than $4mm into reserves for infrastructure improvements rather than spending them in operations. You can see the fruits of this prudent planning with all the street construction and replacement of 100 year old sewer lines going on throughout the city.
Streamlining the Approval Process – Unfortunately, Orange isn’t always known as the most business friendly city. Often our permitting process for new business and development is hard to understand, subjective and takes far too much time, increasing carrying costs and creating economic uncertainty. Upon getting elected, I along with Mayor Cavecche called for an outside assessment of our planning process. The report was not pretty. It indicated a culture of process over results and a culture of rule enforcement rather than helping guide the public and applicants through what must be done to have a good project. So, we changed out the leadership in the Community Development Department, and passed two ordinances to streamline the approval process removing Design Review Committee Approval from most applications not in Old Towne and making things like signs approvable over the counter by staff within guidelines and not requiring a hearing. We’ve also placed overlays in our commercial area on West Katella to allow historic uses to stay as legal and conforming, but allowing property owners the option to change to more mixed used and retail if they chose in the future.
Maintain the Best Downtown in Orange County: Old Towne Orange is voted the Best Downtown in Orange County, year after year. Yet aging infrastructure threaten its continued success.
Old Towne is incredibly impacted. Some of the business succeed initially, but struggle for sustainability as shoppers and diners choose not to fight the parking headaches for repeat visits. This year we will be breaking ground on the new 611 space parking garage on the Lemon street lot between the train station and Old Towne. This is mostly funded by Measure M from OCTA and Metrolink, as well as the last bit of the city’s redevelopment funds. Yet, estimates indicate that we need another 1000-1500 spaces beyond that or likely the equivalent of two more garages. Our current City Hall was built in the early 1960s, leaks in the winter, uses in ordinate amounts of air conditioning in the summer, and is not seismically safe. It also does not fit with the ambiance of the Old Towne area. Our Senior Center is also an aging facility that needs substantial work. Our Fire Department Headquarters suffers from all the same problems as our City Hall. We even own vacant land on Chapman Avenue that sits idle. Yet the City of Orange do not have the funds to pay for any of these projects. I believe that if we have the vision and are willing to think creatively, and work collaboratively with the business community, we can solve this problem. Right now Architects from all over Orange are volunteering their own time as part of the Old Towne Design Collaborative to imagine parking garages on outlying properties that would not affect the views in Old Towne, these concepts also include a rebuilt City Hall, Fire Headquarters and Senior Center all repurposing existing city land with new buildings that include retail and parking that architecturally fit with the Old Towne ambiance. The vision is to bring various designs and options to the public at hearings in order to pick a plan that fits the community the best, then have private retail and parking developers bid to do the projects with private funds. This will take lots of time in order to be done right and receive the approval of the community at large , but I’m committed to a future than maintains the historic core of our city for generations to come.
Further streamline the approval process/ reduce business license fees/ promote retail and hotels: Progress in the permit approval process is still slower than I would like and it will continue to be one of my top priorities. Identifying a new and dynamic leader for Community Development Department is the first priority. The second is truing up the business license fee to its actual purpose – determining that a business is properly located in a zone and facility that is appropriate for the conduct of that business and not adversely impacting neighbors. Home based businesses that don’t have customers visiting have grown tremendously during the recession as people have had to make their own employment. We need to not punish these business that don’t impact the neighborhood. Lastly, the only sources of revenue that the City can truly influence are retail sales and hotels. A strong economy and low barriers of entry to these establishments provide goods and services that people need and use. Only those users pay the sales and/or hotel bed tax. We just reworked our sales tax ordinance to encourage sales growth. With our location near Disneyland, the Honda Center, the new train station, and visitors to Chapman University, we need to encourage private developers too look at underutilized land in our western industrial/commercial areas for Hotel use that could increase our hotel tax revenues. One way we can do this is applying for Measure M money to resume study of a bridge from the end of Collins over the river to the new train station. This project was shelved without study years ago. Just through our location, we can take advantage of the growth in the Anaheim Convention Center and the publicly funded amenities in Garden Grove without spending taxpayer money.